It is sad to see the end of News of the World

Published : Aug 04, 2011 00:00 IST

I don't need to review all the circumstances that brought about the decision to end the 163-year long life of the News of the World but a few days later I feel almost as sad as if a member of my immediate family had died, says Ted Corbett.

Recently three of my newspaper pals died suddenly and I am still sad at their departure. The best known was Peter Batt who worked alongside me when I was first made a cricket correspondent 30 years ago. We were both on the staff of the tabloid Daily Star; he was the columnist, the whole world of sport was his oyster.

To say he was a character was to say that the Archbishop of Canterbury attends church on a regular basis. Incidents, wild stories, huge exaggerations followed Peter wherever he went in a career which took in most of the leading red top papers, a spell as a scriptwriter at Eastenders and the tale that one of his brothers was a vicar and the other a leading London gangster.

He always denied the stories about his past but he could not deny that, as the Scots say, he enjoyed a wee drop of the hard stuff.

The stories of his deeds under the influence of alcohol are (a) usually unfit for a family sports magazine and (b) too unlikely to believe. If I told you some of them you would tell me I had been drinking. One must be authentic because it is repeated in his autobiography.

He was on duty in France when his office heard news of a plane crash and sent him to file a story. Batty, as he was always known, set off into a forest which was the scene of the crash.

Not surprisingly, he could find no sign of the crash so, naturally, he lay down while he thought what might be his next move and fell asleep.

Soon afterwards he was found by a group of nuns who had set out to see if they could help injured passengers. They assumed he was one of the victims, carried him off to their nunnery and put him to bed.

When he woke they continued to nurse him until they pronounced him fit to continue his journey

Do not think too badly of the man because he drank heavily. My trade is hard on the top men and they need to find a way to relax. Besides it is a waiting game and where else would a man wait except in a tavern.

Martin Searby found the same fact early in life as I discovered a few days after we met.

He came for a job interview and my sports editor invited the two of us to go — where else but a pub — for an hour. “What do you think of that young man,” he asked as we returned to the office.

“He seems ok — but he certainly has some strong opinions,” I said. “Well,” said the sports editor, “he is going to express them in my paper. He has another interview but if he still wants the job he is hired.”

A couple of weeks later we heard he had joined another newspaper and two days after that he was fired.

He had gone to the Press Club — there used to be a large and hospitable one in Manchester, open until dawn if there were still customers — with the paper's 60-year-old golf correspondent and questioned one of the opinions the correspondent had written that night.

“That is a very big opinion from a young journalist learning his trade,” said the golf correspondent. Thereupon Martin knocked the old man unconscious with a single blow.

Most of Martin's life was encouraged by drink, his determination to always have the last word, to stick by his principles; and his quick temper. The best tribute to him was written by David Hopps of The Guardian; it is worth digging it out and savouring every word.

He was as close as any reporter could be to the Yorkshire side and I know that Geoff Boycott, Michael Vaughan and several other Yorkshire captains regarded him with great affection.

It is common to say that “they threw the mould away when men like that were born; they don't make ‘em like that any longer”. My experience is the opposite. Such men take time to develop their characters and often, as in the cases of Batt and Searby, it is worth the wait.

The third death I referred to is not a journalist but a newspaper. I don't need to review all the circumstances that brought about the decision to end the 163-year long life of the News of the World but a few days later I feel almost as sad as if a member of my immediate family had died.

The NoW was from the rough trade end of my calling, but in a way few of the intellectuals who have celebrated its departure would understand it was an outstanding success and not just in circulation terms.

At its zenith it sold 8.5 million copies; in these days of radio, TV and internet it had three million paying customers every Sunday; for a reason.

It was best at scooping the rest of the pack, telling stories with all the details, not caring whose well-shod feet it trod on and defying the wealthy, the high and mighty and the legal profession to do their worst. I admired its spirit from afar and, as I did with Batty and Searby, soon saw what it had to offer.

Now it has gone and, like many a thousand other journalists, I am sad because I believe it may be the beginning of the end of major newspapers in this country.

Do you wonder I feel sad.

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